FACT was lucky enough to collar Carl Craig for a chat ahead of his DJ set at the Mutek festival in Montreal earlier this month.
The Detroit techno legend talked about some of his current studio projects, and of his renewed interest in improvisitation and performance – this summer sees the UK live debut of his Innerzone Orchestra at Get Loaded In The Park – and his various collaborations, past, present and putative, with the likes of Moritz Von Oswald, Wendell Harrison, ‘Mad’ Mike Banks, Francesco Tristano and even his own children.
You seem to be embarking on more live performances of late. As well as the Innerzone Orchestra gigs, you did a show with Les SiÃ¨cles orchestra at CitÃ© de la Musique in Paris. Are you glad to get out of clubs and into different performance contexts?
“I don’t know if I’d say my attitude has changed. If the right situation presents itself, I agree to it. Some things just work better in a concert hall than a club. The thing with DJing is, it’s easier to do more of it – I’m in here Canada and I’m doing three dates in one weekend…”
You’re presenting the UK debut of Innerzone Orchestra at Get Loaded In The Park this summer…
“Yeah.We did our first date in Rome in January of last year, and another onein Spain. I did a show with Francesco [Tristano], M Kelvin Sholar and abass player. Then thereâ€™s Wendel Harrison and some more players.”
How did the Re:Constructed [Craig’s collaboration with Moritz Von Oswald, in which they “reconstructed” the classical work of Ravel and others] project come about?
â€œWell, Iâ€™ve known for Moritz for a long, long time; I love the guy. So if he suggests something cool, we do it. Moritz has a classical background, and weâ€™d been talking about Versus for a while, so when he asked me to get involved with this Deutsche Grammophon project, it was a no-brainer.”
You seem to be working with Francesco Tristano across a range of different projects at the moment – he’s been part of your Innerzone Orchestra and also collaborated with you in Paris, while you’ve remixed some of his work. How did you meet, and why do you think this partnership has proved so fruitful?
“Francesco came to see me at a gig in Holland, and was introduced to me by a mutual friend. He told me what he was doing, the kind of music he was making and hoping to make, and I was interested â€“ because this guy had formal classical training, but a different kind of approach.
â€œPeople with formal classical training tend to have very restricted ideas about what music is, and can be very limited by that. I know people in the DSO [Detroit Symphony Orchestra] and their concept of perfection is basically to learn a written piece of work exactly.
â€œFrancesco is a new kid with a completely modern approach. He has different influences. Most importantly, he has a desire to improvise â€“ which is unusual for someone who was formally trained. Itâ€™s important that he has a great, wide-ranging knowledge of music â€“ he knows classical music, but heâ€™s also heavily into electronic stuff, and the history of electronic music. Heâ€™s like me â€“ I love everything â€“ well, everything thatâ€™s great.â€
What were the respective roles played by yourself, Moritz and Francesco for that show in Paris [the programme included re-scorings of six Craig works for orchestra and electronics]?
“For the performance in Paris, Francesco arranged the music and played piano; the orchestra was conducted by a guy called Francois Xavier Roth. My role in the performance was really to use my modular synths and add effects, and also the drum breaks for â€˜Desireâ€™ and â€˜Technologyâ€™, things like that. Moritz was doing the same, but more subtle, and more improvised, I guess.”
You seem to be very fond of collaboration at the moment…
â€œLive performance with musicians is not so easy. When I started working, I worked alone â€“ which was difficult in a different way. Having lots of people involved makes the process complex â€“ there’s lots of different emotions, moods and characters to manage.”
Is the [Detroit jazz label] Tribe album you talked about finished?
“Yeah, with Wendell Harrison. It’s nearing completion. It’s been a long process. In a way, the recording of the instrumental parts was a straightforward process, it happened quite quickly. But my part as a producer, to put my touch on it as a sound-designer – that’s been more challenging, and taken more time than I expected.
“Hopefully the finished thing will combine the best of his Tribe legacy with my own in electronic music.”
Do you think you’ll return at any point to making a completely solo studio album, like Landcruising or More Songs About Food And Revolutionary Art?
“Well, it really has to do with the time it takes. More Songs was really a collection of tracks that had accumulated over time, a bit like Sessions, but something like Landcruising – where every song was written specifically for the purpose – well, that’s a different thing.
“But I will get around to it, I guess. But non-collaborative? I doubt it. Even if it’s “my” album, there are people I know who I’d really want to contribute – Wendell’s horn-playing, and John Arnold, who’s a great guitarist. And I’ve been talking to [Underground Resistance’s] Mike Banks for a long time about doing something together, so maybe that will happen soon.”
I’m often surprised at how little audio-visual work you’re involved in. I mean, I know you’ve worked with visuals before, but it doesn’t seem to be something you’ve prioritized in recent years…
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s strange, because for me, the biggest influence on me growing up was TV – I just watched so much TV when I was a kid. So there’s a been a big visual influence on what I do all along, and maybe I should do some more video work. I think I will. One of the reasons I haven’t done it so much so far is because, in Detroit at least, there are no video people I particularly want to work with. There are some good people, but they’re not really right for me. So I guess I’m just waiting for the right collaborator to come through. Who knows, maybe it’ll be one of my kids? Maybe it’ll be my son…”
What’s your attitude to re-issue culture? How do you feel about re-packaging your past?
“We have the Planet E Classics series, so I evidently have no problem with re-issues. I understand the importance of keeping things available. But then I also understand the value of letting things go out of print for a while. If you let something go out of print for 10 years, there’s obviously going to be more interest when you do decide to bring it back. Anyway, this year we’ll be releasing a vinyl box set of the 69 releases, which should be really nice.”
More and more of your work seems to fall under the banner of Carl Craig these days; you seem less inclined to use the range of pseudonyms and alter egos you used to use…
“I guess the different name thing had to with me being younger, always moving around, jumping from one thing to the next thing. It wasn’t particularly conscious. And even now, I might just make a record and it’s a Tres Demented record, or I might do something else and I know it’s a Paperclip People record. I don’t really think too hard about it.
“But maybe one day I’ll do the Planet E Revue, you know?” [laughs]. I’ll perform in all my different guises. You know, Peace can open the show, 69 can close it!”